Even though things appeared to be under control in public, it was anything but behind the scenes at the NBA Finals. In a longform piece by Rolling Stone, COVID-19 outbreaks from within both the Phoenix Suns and Milwaukee Bucks organizations threatened to disrupt the Finals.
A total of 17 sources cooperated with Rolling Stone for the piece. Among one of the more telling stories was that the outbreak within the Bucks infected a handful of people, including Thanasis Antetokounmpo. Initially assuming that Giannis was hanging out with his brother, there was concern that Giannis would eventually get it. Adding to the confusion, Giannis’ vaccination status was unknown by many within the Bucks at the time, much less the general public.
A “high-ranking official who was just outside the [Bucks’] braintrust” explained to Rolling Stone:
“We were very concerned that Giannis wasn’t vaccinated and that, with all of this exposure from all these different people,” the franchise cornerstone — a one-man band and the new face of the NBA — might get infected, or at least contact-traced by the NBA and forced to quarantine, potentially altering the course of sports history. “It hit everybody pretty quickly, but the biggest thing was: Just make sure Giannis tests negative.”
There was cause for uneasiness. Because it was the NBA Finals, some mandates were relaxed at that time. A second charter plane that consisted of immediate family, extended family, and entourage members got to go to Phoenix where there was a large dinner at a steakhouse.
At the same time, the Suns had their own situation where Chris Paul (who was vaccinated) had to enter health and safety protocols and couldn’t play Games 1 and 2. In total, “upwards of a dozen people” from both teams tested positive, including six vaccinated Bucks staffers, family and entourage members from both teams, and Thanasis.
The entire story is wild and the NBA’s testing practices from the 2020-21 season is going to be the subject of a paper from The New England Journal of Medicine. As far as Giannis was concerned, it turned out he was vaccinated and that even before Thanasis was sick, Giannis wasn’t really hanging out with his brother because according to an NBA official, “[Thanasis] was just kind of like this extra voice in [Giannis’] head that he didn’t really need.”
Add the fact that Giannis “doesn’t like going to team dinners” and “received private attention from the team’s medical staff,” he pretty much stayed away from enough people and kept testing negative throughout. That may have helped win the Bucks the title as Giannis stayed healthy, and finished the title deciding Game 6 with 50 points and winning the MVP award.